Sanmina on Cutting Edge of COVID-19 Detection Research

Sanmina Senior Engineer Robert Newberry has more than 30 patents in research and development to his credit in a distinguished career that has spanned 25 years and two countries.

He has been at the forefront of developing non-invasive methods to measure blood type, sepsis infection, insulin and glucose levels.

In late February something new came along that changed the course of the innovative groups he leads at Sanmina — the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Today, he’s spearheading research for a non-invasive device that could speed the detection process of possible COVID-19 infection. Sanmina has released a preprint paper, or one that has not been formally reviewed, and Newberry recently discussed his research.

If things go as hoped, Sanmina will produce a device that would be used like a blood-pressure monitor and could be used in a doctor’s office or emergency room. It would reveal indicators that could give health providers an early warning of possible viral infection within minutes. It would lessen patients’ possible exposure in settings where the virus might exist.

“We’re not looking at the antibodies, but we’re looking at the reaction of the different immune system components, the different organs, and our device allows us to do this, basically within five minutes,’’ said Newberry, a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “So, this is the core mission of what we’re trying to accomplish, as well as trying to address the long-standing problem of patients going septic in the hospital.  Sepsis is the cause for about 50 percent of hospital deaths worldwide.

“It is an extremely severe problem and a lot of people have been studying this for quite some time. We’ve been doing research along this line. I am leading the research team. We have a number of patents that my team and I have been filing as we develop this technology.’’

Newberry said his teams have been “researching non-invasive optical sensing for the past several years, and it’s related to postdoc symmetry. We don’t use invasive techniques such as drawing blood. We monitor  data derived from a finger sensor  that produces signals to measure changes in circulation and other changing parameters.’’

Complex signals in the bloodstream, he said, reveal complex signals for detection and trends in a person.

“We’re working with … Dr. Evangelos J. Giamarellos-Bourboulis,” Newberry said. “He is the president of the European Septic Shock Society. We started a clinical trial to see if we could detect early sepsis, which you might be aware of is a form of an infection that goes out of control and makes organs dysfunctional. And so, we’ve been doing a lot of monitoring with our device in a clinical setting, and this was all going along just fine and then the pandemic hit.

“At that time, what we knew was that nitrous oxide, which is produced by the body, has three different synthetic forms, and one of those forms tends to amplify at a high rate prior to someone getting organ dysfunction beyond acceptance, which is sepsis. Our clinical data indicates that somewhere between two and six hours before a clinical diagnosis of sepsis, signals with our device can provide a pre-warning of sepsis. And this is fundamentally what our research is about.’’

Newberry’s long history of researching sepsis makes him an obvious candidate to explore COVID-19.

“In the worst case-patients with COVID-19, it leaves a pathway to sepsis,” he said. “So, when you hear about a patient with a severe case, normally they’ll go from the hospital ward to the ICU and they’re actually struggling with sepsis. In nearly every case this is what happens. The care providers in the hospitals are trying to fight this. In a fast-track study, we actually monitored known COVID cases in hospitals in Europe.

“We took a certain cohort of those patients and we were able to confirm, both with gold standard methods using the blood plasma and our sensor, that nitric oxide is greatly amplified prior to the severe condition of COVID-19. This is part of the results that have been summarized in the paper that you might have seen on the preprint. What we’re trying to discover is if we can identify three different sub-cohorts of COVID-19. We’ve already tested symptomatic patients that are hospitalized, but we’re trying to determine with our device whether we can tell if asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people are sick and provide an indication.’’

Sanmina is primarily a global contract manufacturer that builds products for other partners.

“We’ve been trying to get this technology to the next level of readiness so that a partner can deploy this solution,’’ Newberry said.

Newberry said he couldn’t offer a possible launch date for the device.

“I would say that our research that’s published is state of the art,’’ he said, “but I’m not able to comment about a timeframe.’’